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Skewed Visions specializes in site-specific performance. We create work that embraces site as an endlessly stimulating element of performance.  Formed in Minneapolis in 1996, Skewed Visions is Charles Campbell, Gülgün Kayim and Sean Kelley-Pegg.  Learn more and experience 'Cubicle', our on-line series of webcasts, at http://www.skewedvisions.org.

The Great War Resonates

My collegue Mr. Campbell asks ‘Why the great War?’  My answer:  Why not? Holland may have remained neutral terrirtory in this conflict but the physchological and physical effects of the war had great impact far beyond borders. I see no reason to criticize Hotel Modern for their choice of material. In fact, the Great War as an […]

My collegue Mr. Campbell asks ‘Why the great War?’  My answer:  Why not? Holland may have remained neutral terrirtory in this conflict but the physchological and physical effects of the war had great impact far beyond borders. I see no reason to criticize Hotel Modern for their choice of material.

In fact, the Great War as an object of respresentation and as part of cultural memory and as an event that still resonates and still figures largely in Europe is of little surprise. The Great War was and still is a large  part of  the European High School curriculum. I grew up in England and vividly remember these lessons. I remember being struck by the power of the first world war poets in my English literature class, our endless visits to the Imperial War Museum’s WWI trench displays (we went several times in history class) and every year on the 11th day on the 11th month we were attacked by poppy selling kids on Armistice Day (1918). Poppies were the symbol of the day to remember the dead of WW I and commemorate the end of the war (on the 11th hr of the 11th day of the 11th month…blah..blah )as these flowers were the first to bloom in the war ravaged terrain. As per Mr. Campbell’s experience, these texts were handed to me by my 6th form tutor and they had a siesmic effect on my young, pubescent mind.  In particular I became very attached to the work of Wilfred Owen (Dulce Et Decorum Est) and Issac Rosenberg (Dead Man’s Dump).  And they still have an effect on me and my approach to history. In fact I will venture that  WWI set into motion events that are still spinning themselves out and impacting us today. Following the war, the League of Nations sliced and diced what remained of the Austro-Hungarian Empire/the Ottoman Empire putting the winners in charge of rearranged territories into newly minted countries like Palestine, Iraq etc..and yes, I think those resonances continue on today.

But is that what drove our friends Hotel Modern? I think not. I found it interesting to discover from one of the performers after the show on Saturday that the makers were interested primarily in the impact of war on the landscape. Am I being literal or is environmentalism  a whole new way to , to look at old WWI topic?  Certainly images like the striking pile of dead and decaying bodies at the end underscored this concept but… really… REALLY? Did anyone else understand this piece as a green  meditation on war? Not me. The more I think about it the more I do not see it. The camera’s point of view, the performers point of view, all seemed to dwell on the individual soldier’s experiences and the pointless waste of human life. And this I agree with Mr. Campbell is not a new take on WWI events, I grant you.

However,  even with these inconsistencies I found the performance interesting and resonant. As I said, I will never tire of this topic I’m a bit geeky about it. And like my other collegue, Mr Kelley-Pegg, I also enjoyed the skill and inventiveness of the performers finding, dare I say, pleasure in their restraint and handling of the topic overall.  Is that a bad thing ? To find pleasure in such difficult, ugly subject matter? I will admit that part of my pleasure came from watching  the ingenious way the events unfurled before me.

My vote goes to Hotel Modern as the overall winner of the 2010 crop o’ Out There performances.

Gulgun Kayim

Skewed Visions

Two Questions on The Great War

Indeedy, yep. Good stuff, Maynard. Breathe a sigh of relief and put down the shield. For a change I’ll keep this brief. Couple questions raised for me. Draw your own conclusions. (To be handed in at the box office.) 1)  Why World War I? The Great War. The Netherlands were able to remain neutral during […]

Indeedy, yep. Good stuff, Maynard. Breathe a sigh of relief and put down the shield.

For a change I’ll keep this brief.

Couple questions raised for me. Draw your own conclusions. (To be handed in at the box office.)

1)  Why World War I? The Great War. The Netherlands were able to remain neutral during this war, which to me raises all sorts of interesting issues about what it took to achieve that, and how that history lives in the present. Any connection to Hotel Modern‘s thinking on this (see Extra Credit below)?

1a)  Was this choice meant to be representative of other, more contemporary, conflicts? Or war in general? Neither of these seem satisfactory to me as motivations for picking this disaster with its deeply  ingrained images. Which itself raises more issues about representation, so I remain curious.

1b) The program says “Just like any other war.” But what is not only more interesting to me, but is more important when representing senseless large-scale global violence, I think, is: what makes this particular? What are the specifics, the differences between this war and others? Or between current ongoing wars and That One a century ago? What made either/any possible? No difference? Many differences? Do these play into the performance at all?

1c) Is it actually possible that this was not meant to call these contemporary massacres to mind? If this is true…wha? And why not? (Return to #1.)

1d) If it it was meant to somehow comment on our current condition, I would respectfully question the realization. A general association with these beautifully realized images is not much of a mental stimulant.

2) Why the text? I read All Quiet On The Western Front when my English teacher picked it out for me in 9th grade. Is this literary experience clouding my reception of all other language related to this war (specifically, this production’s)? If not, why did all the text — including the “authentic letters home written by trench soldiers” — seem so familiar?

2b) Why “authentic”? Does it matter?

2.1) “Staggeringly realistic“? More on this red flag below.

2c) Why no credits for text sources? Do they not matter? If not, why not move toward eliminating the text to begin with? They were the weakest part, and the moments without text were among the strongest. (See aphasia.)

2c.02) Over and over again in the publicity material, there is the overt linking of this work with film — and not puppetry (“live animation film” for example, from the program). I am supposing this privileging of the celluloid over the material object is a conscious and purposeful cue to how to position oneself as an audience member. And is related to the structuring of the images on the screen. It Looked like film. Which raises my suspicions. What end does this production serve? I’ve read my Guy Debord, even if I can’t remember it all.

2d.011) Does the fascinating revelation of the means of production temper this effect? Or does it just provide an escape valve? Or is there a more complicated response? (Discuss.)

2q) I was first charmed, then puzzled, then frustrated with the construction of images on screen. Although I agree with my colleague, Mr Kelley-Pegg, that the combination of illusion and revelation were tangibly fascinating to witness in performance (and which I believe my colleague Ms Kayim may also respect, given her previous post) I have questions about the created images themselves. For the most part they tended to reify those that live in our collective (visual/imaginary/conceptual) understanding of this event. They reinforce what we already think about World War One: the trenches, the mud, the movies, the senseless slaughter, the movies, the loss of the innocence of refinement, and the movies. And the highly cinematic use of the cameras and effects tended to support this image which leads me to think it was somehow intended. Which ensuing aestheticization of the experience seems to be contrary to any critical perspective on this — or any conflict. So: how wrong am I? (Response timed.)

2q.b) The heads in the opening section came, saw, and left. I woulda liked them to come back. A post-image internal moment of positioning the war images with (a semi-Brechtian?) critical distance. Or would it?

2r.314159265) Leaving aside the question of whether this work can be described as “realistic,” what does the desire to describe it as such reveal? Are we so antipathetic to the realm of the imagination? Never mind, don’t answer that. Since the reality of the image is in the mind of the audience, is it “staggeringly” (or “astonishingly,” cf website) because you wouldn’t think you could achieve this result via effect (film, puppetry, theatrical, textual, etc.)? Or is it so to reinforce a sense of accuracy and acceptance that otherwise might be relegated to questioning and critical perspective?

See? Only two questions. Brief.

Extra credit:

Hotel Modern’s website: “Hotel Modern are idealistic in the sense that they believe the watching and experiencing of theatre can encourage reconciliation.” Does this goal of encouraging reconciliation answer all your questions? Do you have any questions?

Charles Campbell

Skewed Visions

The Great Mini-War

Wow.  This is the reason I’ve been coming to Out There since I moved to Minneapolis twenty years ago.  I thought this show was simply fabulous, well textured, full of detail, intricately prepared and well executed, and overall – really groundbreaking. I don’t want to repeat the summaries you can read elsewhere, but a short […]

Wow.  This is the reason I’ve been coming to Out There since I moved to Minneapolis twenty years ago.  I thought this show was simply fabulous, well textured, full of detail, intricately prepared and well executed, and overall – really groundbreaking.

I don’t want to repeat the summaries you can read elsewhere, but a short recap is this:  Hotel Modern, the performance company, recreate the atmosphere of World War I using miniature models manipulated live over cameras in closeup, and projected on a giant screen at the back of the stage.  Members of the company create the illusion of great mechanized battles and fields of mud and death, while a performer reads actual letters from soldiers.

We’ve already got great battle films, right?  And a billion-dollar professional special effects industry?  So why recreate a war that took place almost 100 years ago using dirt, amateur cameras, and homemade soldier dolls?  Because it tells the story in a much more compelling way than throwing a lot of money at such a project ever would.  What makes it work is the balancing act the viewer walks between watching the performers set up a scene using obviously fabricated elements, and then watching the (really compelling) version on screen.  This is where the show shines:  the images are moving, well composed, and shot expertly – with no trace of irony, or that “look at my cleverness” experimentalism that you so often get in this kind of work.  Instead you vascillate between compassion for the material and objective interest in how the effects are achieved.

All the visual effects would be lost without the skills of the Foley artist accompanying the show, Arthur Sauer.  A “Foley artist” creates sound effects, and Mr. Sauer does so live, almost without you noticing, as the performers manipulate the objects. Boots squish in the mud; a machine gun lays down an enemy company; a soldier urinates before being picked off by a sniper.  I was constantly torn between watching him queue up an effect and watching the result paired with the video action.  It was like being a kid again, playing in the grass with little army guys, making homemade sounds, overlain with the horrible mechanized reality of the Great War.

Finally, another reason to support live work.

Sean Kelley-Pegg

Skewed Visions

The Watts Tower Project : A Devoted and Disgruntled Response.

I went to Mr. Guenveur Smith’s “The Watts Tower Project” on Friday evening and have felt intellectually constipated and irritable ever since. Wait, before we go any further I want to first make it clear that I thought the performance was a fine shinning thing. The thing that has been bothering me finally clarifed this […]

I went to Mr. Guenveur Smith’s “The Watts Tower Project” on Friday evening and have felt intellectually constipated and irritable ever since. Wait, before we go any further I want to first make it clear that I thought the performance was a fine shinning thing. The thing that has been bothering me finally clarifed this morning, after reading the other reviews of the performance. For that I will thank my collegue, Mr. Charles Campbell for cracking open this performance nut and helping me to the otherside.  

Again, to clarify – my crankineess isn’t because the work wasn’t finely  made -  I thought it beautiful, sonorous, poetic and at times transcendent. Nor was it that Mr. Smith is an unskilled performer -  the work was beautifully articulated. Or even that I found the work’s various points of view uninteresting or appropriate to our present moment – in fact I deeply appreciated, no, LOVED the composition of ideas, politics, art, biography…etc

BUT, But, But its… because.. how can I put it? I had an itch. What AM I talking about?  Well, I found the experience physically frustrating. I wanted to leap from my seat because the work was so good and the formality of theater space so stiffling, so limited, so BORING, so UNINSPIRING, so FLATTENING to the power and potential of this performance and performer.

Am I echoing what Charles is saying? Yes, I think I am. During the show I kept thinking this was good but how much better it would be if I could experience it in a smoky crowded room full of sweaty people talking back to Mr. Smith? In fact, one of the reasons I was thinking such a thought was because some of the younger audience members around me on Friday night kept murrmuring their opinions in response to or recognition of  Mr Smith’s words. One young woman even got up, answered her cell phone then got back to the show. At first I admit, I was mildly annoyed but then..THEN I realized that those around me were responding to the call of the performance. That these were feelings and responses to the words on stage and part of the greater harmony of this work. This work NEEDED a RESPONSE,  which the majority of us were too cultured to give (I include myself in this group). In fact listening to the comments around me, made my performance experience better. And how much better it would have been if Mr. Smith could himself hear what was being said, or feel our responses and respond back to us? Or even, refine the beat of his monologue to the tune of the audience. Or if we could all feel free to comment, groan, answer our phones and yell our responses back to him? Wow, that would be a fine thing wouldn’t it? (Yeah, yeah I know Brecht said this already). In fact Mr. Smith had tried to make the space, smaller, more intimate by arranging the projection screens as far down as they could go – something I’ve seen others do here.

Instead that damn proscenium space made the work distant and flat, flat, flat. It destanitized my experience of the liveness of this performance – that blood sweat and goo that goes into making a living, breathing piece of work, and delivering it to a live breathing audience and making it all work in a mess TOGETHER.

Friday’s experience also made me rethink of Radiohole. And think that yes their work suffered from ‘The Space’ syndrome more than I probably realize. That work belongs in the intimacy of their space: The Collapsable Hole. And I know for a fact that Eric Dyer struggles with the concept of touring their mega messes. (I totally realize that this is my thing, my obsession – site based performance – and yes, of course this is what I am likely to say. BUT one of the reasons I left the theater building is because I am devoted and disgruntled.) Maybe we all need to take a moment and think about what the drive to make more money, to build bigger theaters, to create these commercial, conventional performance spaces ..what it has done or can do to deaden the life of work that is made in another context for another context and what we need to do to get the LIVENESS back into live performance. You know what I think needs to be done. Any other ideas out there?

Gulgun Kayim
skewed visions

Roger, Mark, Daniel, José, Sabato, Sherman, Helen, Jean-Michel & Co.

Mr Smith is unquestionably a highly talented writer/performer. He is one of those who have reached the apex of the form: fluent, deft and clear, with an accomplished and undulating musicality, following a wide-ranging, interpersonal, political, humanistic flow of images and stories. The sound- and imagescapes were works of great intricacy and grace, supportively layered […]

Mr Smith is unquestionably a highly talented writer/performer. He is one of those who have reached the apex of the form: fluent, deft and clear, with an accomplished and undulating musicality, following a wide-ranging, interpersonal, political, humanistic flow of images and stories. The sound- and imagescapes were works of great intricacy and grace, supportively layered and interwoven into the piece. The opening moment, a “palate-cleanser” in his own words, was easily the most exciting and beautiful section — full of potential and mystery, movement and power, the kind of stuff that lifts your butt off the seat. Then it landed, and the form began to unfold.

O Sole Mio, enough of this well-made play-type stuff! I’d love to complain about how the world will not withstand the onslaught of such perfection, but clearly such perfection is what keeps the world spinning. And the way this world is spinning is not something I’m comfortable with. I am at heart an aging dissident: restless in my Anti-dotage. Is it enough to mention Haiti?

Once again with Project we are in the territory of accepted performance conventions. Where Rimini Protokoll evaporated most attributes of conventional performance into an oddly static long-distance phone conversation, and Radiohole lightly stirred them into a messy satire, Mr Smith and Co. are settled comfortably into a different tradition (whose once unconventional attributes have been embraced as comfortably as Archie Bunker’s chair does his ample rear). This tradition has been firmly linked with both autobiographical exposure and a certain type of political/art activism. It is one of the culturally accepted positions for the Voice of the Outsider.

No matter how well-done and beautiful the performance, no matter how radical its sentiments (and Simon Rodia’s work and life can stand for both of these from a number of perspectives), when it appears behind the beautiful lights and curtains of this Tradition’s podium, the words spoken from this place are drained of blood and left a Fine Evening Out. And this sucks all excitement from the experience. This is doubly unfortunate in the light of the Watts Towers themselves that spoke from a scrap of dirt to a heavy neighborhood near a train track.

Lest you think that I am an irremediably cranky old man who can find no pleasure in his chosen profession, I will briefly say that there is a nameless collection of people who did a show in a cold basement under apparently semi-illicit conditions that I was lucky enough to take in after the Out There SpeakEasy. Because they are young, the gist of The Thing dealt with love and relationships, but the means by which this subject was approached allowed air in. It took place in the stank-and-funk basement(!) — a created environment in which movement, text, sound, bodies and light are given a rough ride and obliterate the proscenium and its minions of doom.

And once that arch was out of the way (and all that goes with it) you could take part in this experience, rather than sit and watch a Fine Evening Out. It was immediate, visceral, suggestive, and clever. Whatever it had to say was placed directly into your body, and revealed the passive artificiality of Dead Performance Conventionality. I was almost knocked to the wall a couple times and handed my half-eaten pancake so that one of them could stand on the table at my elbow. I was told what happened before that, and before that and before that, and that I was going to get a present. It reminded me of a manifesto I wrote back in the day. It was a manifesto. It was a highly engaging, effective piece of work that I hope will continue to shout out the doorway to the rest of the world “I like it rough!”

And I wish I could have seen Crotch, too.

Charles Campbell

Skewed Visions

Radiohole W,HA at the McGuire Theater. HA!

Late to the table, I know, but I’m posting from another state (geographically, sweet ones), so I hope I’ll be cut some slack by the screaming pitchforked hordes clamoring for a complete Skewed rundown on Radiohole‘s latest messtravaganza. (Hordes? Anyone?) Here’s my thinking, if it qualifies as such: First, Radiohole is a great name. As […]

Late to the table, I know, but I’m posting from another state (geographically, sweet ones), so I hope I’ll be cut some slack by the screaming pitchforked hordes clamoring for a complete Skewed rundown on Radiohole‘s latest messtravaganza. (Hordes? Anyone?)

Here’s my thinking, if it qualifies as such:

First, Radiohole is a great name. As I mentioned to a sympathetic ear on the crowded WAC stairway, which – except for no cigarette/beer/piss smell, entirely adequate lighting, and a graceful un-defaced finish – could have been the location for the line to a very hot new club (how young and hip will the audience get? Well, who knows. These days it takes less and less to be younger and hipper than me. In fact, by now I’m so hipless it’s a wonder my legs don’t fall off [pace, Douglas Adams]. And this post will add nothing to my pelvis.)

What?

Uh, as I was saying: as I mentioned at the time (but in language more awkward and trite) to a sympathetic ear, I feel that Skewed Visions maybe could have been drawing a younger and hipper crowd if we had a name that simultaneously referenced science and pop culture with allusions to contemporary vulgarities. But alas, we only get skewed.

As a matter of fact, this sympathetic ear made me feel so good about being there, so happy, that I slinked down the steep stairs to my memorialized seat with an open heart and a slight adrenal buzz. How long has it been since that has happened?

Squished in my seat, I read the program before anything happened. Radiohole has a moon there, on a swiveling arm, hanging over the audience, tilting and bending, showing off its bolted face, complete with shadowed clouds crossing its surface. I watched it do its little moondance, but already the McGuire space had taken over. High technical sophistication is an odd bedfellow for “outre transgressors,” maybe.

Because trash-aesthetic is not allowed in that space — no matter how many comestibles get flung. I’ve seen it before: the McGuire space eats any performance that doesn’t snuggle up to its clean lines. The curtains, the black perforated baroque, the entire 18th century structure is – besides an unusual topography for contemporary performance – a deathtrap for unconventional theatrics. The proscenium is not an object, it is a state of mind.* [Don't be shy, Charles, tell us what you really think…. Okay: the fly space would be a fantastic place for a show, with the audience lying on their backs on the stage looking up.]

Which was the first issue: The MacGyver space eats mess and spits a fine evening out. (1)

I recognized, perhaps strangely, Paradise Lost before I recognized All That Heaven Allows (or, as I think of it, Far From Heaven). And after that it wasn’t long before I recognized the mode we were in. Since I often like to layer and collage quotes in my crap as well, I was ready to jump on board. But to tell you the truth, I splashed into the drink as they pulled away from the dock. I know you’re supposed to be able to surf this stuff and see where it takes you, but my board musta been broken.

Which was the second issue: My problem with shows too language-heavy for me. (2)

If this had indeed been a Dadaist anti-spectacle it may have done better to take to heart the catchphrase of Seattle’s mess-theater Implied Violence “We don’t care to be understood, to understand is to lie.” I don’t know if Implied Violence achieves this not having seen more than a video of their stuff, but if they live up to their own hype they’d be worth a looksee despite some suspect ruminations I’ve read. Because I think I understood this piece. Messy, yes. But pretty straightforward satire, I thought.

If Whatever, Heaven Allows is a part of Radiohole‘s intent to question or disrupt our 21st century Spectacle as suggested in the program notes, I think it failed. Which is fine. (God knows, this kind of failure is one we urgently need to witness more often. After how many multitudes have settled for just rehashing Death of A Salesman or Molière, we are blessed that another lonely voice is attaching theater practices to a reasonable level of thinking about the world.)

But this is the third issue: Not to put too fine a point on it, but nobody wants to be halfway f*cked. That’s just fu*ked over. We ought to have been fuc*ed up. (3)

*What’s wrong with a little  proscenium in your mind? If you want to activate, it is an impermeable membrane. If you want to touch, it is a plasticene boundary. If you want to engage, it is a river to cross. It confines the mind and repels the soul. It’s a tool of power and  reassurance to the monied few. It is a means of ordering the visible. Fundamentally, it is a Wall of Death. Check out your Jean-François Lyotard.

1.

Wouldn’t it have been great to see this in a converted garage – a Collapsable Hole? Or better, a recidivist Heathen garage? Or better yet, amid the cigarette/beer/piss, stank and funk of a fading club’s basement storage with low ceilings and sticky floors (with maybe the bass thumps of a One Hit Pop Group filtering through the floor boards from the main room upstairs)?

In other words, there is too much Theater to overcome before the fight with the Spectacle could be enjoined. If you really mean it, take it as far as you can and don’t start out banging your head against the wall. Once more unto the proscenium arch, dear friends, once more! Or close the wall up with our American Beers and jello shots!

[Why Budweiser? Is PBR too hip? All the rednecks I know drink microbrews. But maybe that's just Minnesota.]

See, our old hobby whorse: site-specific is not a kind of theater – it’s not “environmental staging.” It is a way of thinking about the possibilities of art and performance in which space is a material to work with rather than a framework to hide or reveal. And because it must try to destabilize the proscenium, it also necessitates being aware that you are an alien in a hostile environment. We do not Belong. And every move is a fight to the death. Risk it all every time, win over the pit and screw the boxes, take it to the streets.

2.

There’s a fine line between poetry and nonsense. I’d argue that if you’re using language at all, then you’re on the side of the poets. Because aphasia is always a pleasant option – particularly for a world where which label to use – “enhanced interrogation” or “torture” – is a rational topic for public debate. Cripes. Peace is to war as _____ is to ___.

3.

The jello(?) missed Thursday night. By about 6 inches. Fell straight to the floor. So, why did no one pick some up and fling it? At the audience, for preference. It would have Dada-ed us no end. Well, maybe a little anyway.

But I don’t think that was what they were after either. And that, in the end, put the final kibosh on my adrenal rush. The story was clear even if the language was not. The moment when we were told what we weren’t going to see was a nail in my heart. Heartbroke in the lurch, drunk alone in the church. I didn’t want to See a story, but I certainly didn’t want to Hear a story either! Logos! That’s like taking away my box cutter and giving me a thermonuclear device.

Having picked up on the mess early on, I wanted a nasty-ass Guy Debord hazmat. What I got was conventional satire in a semi-conventional outfit.

And frankly, 1950s Americana is already a beaten dead horse as a symbol of bourgeois American/Western myopic self-satisfaction, conformity and hubris. Is there really no way of adapting apparently humanitarian frustration and rage to a contemporary mythos? (Of course there is. I’ve seen other attempts.)

And what happened to Milton?

But it was a funny show, I laughed a lot.

Charles Campbell

Skewed Visions

WHA?! or How to make a show with lots of Jello and Cheap Beer.

Experiencing Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows was a riot on the senses. In my opinion the show was a writhing, churning, unholy mess of  words, images, sound, jello, cheap beer, bad singing and bad acting.   This was literally  a sensory stampede whose  actions and images had some lose association with the 1955 Douglas Sirk melodrama All […]

Experiencing Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows was a riot on the senses. In my opinion the show was a writhing, churning, unholy mess of  words, images, sound, jello, cheap beer, bad singing and bad acting.   This was literally  a sensory stampede whose  actions and images had some lose association with the 1955 Douglas Sirk melodrama All That Heaven Allows. It was also a kitsch, campy critique of 1950′s America and its obsession with conformity.

Now some contemporary critics will argue that Sirk’s movie is itself a subtle critique of American conformity and not an endorsement but an exposure of the conservative cultural values critiqued by Radiohole. So you could view the performance as a totally blatant, clumsy, irreverent, critical deconstruction of a film that critiques American conformity and the show is, itself really a contemporary critique of theatrical conformity or conformity of representation.

Or maybe not, maybe we should just leave well alone and say it’s pointless to go into this discussion. Maybe its just best to follow the advice of Philip Bither the Walker’s Senior Performance Curator who advises audience members in the program to: ‘relax, go with the flow, not try too hard to understand everything [and] look for layers..’

And boy oh boy are there layers in this show!! Lots of ‘em – gooey layers upon layers of stuff, to wade through. Like the Maori welcome dance (who saw that coming?) or the jello dump on Maggie Hoffman and the orbiting baseball-like slide entrances made by Eric Dyer.  Junk literally on stage and in the performance for no real reason other than, I guess, someone in the cast wanted it in the show. So much junk that this show is…is …hard to encompass in any kind of description. In fact trying to articulate or say anything intelligent about the ravings of the Radiohole lunatics is, I think, a futile task. Which brings me to my only point here. That I think the group’s intent is to defy all meaning and choose to assault the audience with their ‘trash aesthetic’ – I’ve also heard their work called ‘punk aesthetic’.

This attitude and this work reminds me of accounts of the performances made by Dada artists such as Tristan Tzara at the celebrated Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in the early 20th century . The over the top use of meaningless, stream-of-consciousness flowery language (so reminiscent of Tzara’s 1921 play, ‘The Gas Heart’),  the scatological sophomoric, humor; the-in-your-face sarcasm, violence and anger…shall I go on? In fact the peeing at the end of WHA?! could, I thought, be a direct reference to Oscar Kokoska’s famous peeing onstage in a Cabaret Voltaire show – which caused a riot. Also the Radiohole rejection of any kind of dramaturgy. The dramatic mayhem and defiant refusal to serve up any kind of dramatic structure that would provide comfort or support for an audience was supported by  Maggie Hoffman proclaiming at one point that Radiohole are determined to resist making any meaning on stage. It all seemed like Dada art to me, with a splash of the contemporary generations’ love of media and gadgets.   That’s my take on the whole sticky mess. Why subject us to this?

The Dada artists were revolting against social and artistic conformity in a world gone mad with the first world war. It was a response to time and place. The turn of the century saw an acceleration of technology along with a lot of death in the Great War, followed by the Spanish flu epidemic. Also, great empires were falling and dissolving: the Ottoman, the Austro-Hungarian, the Russian. In fact Russia was embroiled in revolution prior to the WWI carnage.  All in all, it seemed like an appropriate response to social chaos and death on a massive scale. The Dada gesture was to meet chaos with chaos and declare art meaningless.

Are the Radiohole people saying something similar about the times we live in with their work ? Well this is a blog, and its getting late, tell me what you think?

Gulgun Kayim

Skewed Visions

A Sticky Mess.

The Radiohole show I saw last night was a royal, sticky mess.  That’s what I loved about it. Let’s just get this part out of the way.  Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows uses the 1955 romance film All that Heaven Allows as a loose organizing framework.  The original film was a criticism of 1950′s domestic life […]

The Radiohole show I saw last night was a royal, sticky mess.  That’s what I loved about it.

Let’s just get this part out of the way.  Radiohole’s Whatever, Heaven Allows uses the 1955 romance film All that Heaven Allows as a loose organizing framework.  The original film was a criticism of 1950′s domestic life trapped inside a melodrama, and it has been the inspiration for a number of other films.   It helps to know the basic plot elements, but since I haven’t seen the film, I’ll just parrot what I read online.  An affluent widow, moving in country club circles, falls in love with her free-spirited gardener.   She is intrigued by his romantic and fun-loving life, but their relationship is looked down upon by her friends and her nearly-grown children.  She must choose between love and convention.

The Radiohole bunch take that original idea and just go haywire with it.   They use an amplified, media-heavy approach with lots of beer and jello shots.  In fact, sit up close and maybe you can snag a beer too, like the fellow I saw in the front row.  It’s clever, funny, endlessly creative and without the self-important attitude that you so often get with this kind of show.

But a show like this can be a bewildering experience.   Afterwards, I sat listening a group of college guys who had no idea what to make of it.  So here’s my take on how to approach this kind of work.   Just roll with it.  Take five minutes and read about the film on Wikipedia, and you’ll be just fine.   Don’t expect to understand plot or feel moved by character.  Instead, just enjoy the chaos.   Here and there the bones of the story will poke through, but that’s only part of the fun.  If you know Jazz, think Charlie Parker.   He would start with a famous melody and just riff on it until the original tune was unrecognizable.   The point is to enjoy the riffing – how far into left field will they go, and then how will they get back?   Look for the formal qualities of the work.  How do they handle timing, pacing, and elements of surprise?   Watch for the way they create patterns and then break them.   See if you can catch how they present the obvious plot points in unexpected ways.

My favorite moments, in no particular order:

  • A kissing scene, in which the rules for a proper stage kiss are described as the actors misbehave.
  • An in-your-face cocktail party, toe-to-toe with the front row, that leaves everyone wet and filthy.
  • The sticky sound of the actors’ boots on drying beer, and the giant squeegee used to wipe it up.
  • A old-school sound effects record player on stage, operated by the actors themselves.
  • Wrist-mounted wireless remote controls to change the stage environment.
  • A wonderfully elegant hand-operated snow maker.

The show is short on things like “meaning” and can seem a bit random, but I found it full of surprises, playful, technically tight and never dull.  See it if there are any tickets left.

Sean Kelley-Pegg

Skewed Visions

Call Cutta, I’m All Tied Up. Another Skewed Perspective

You know, there are about 347 shows I’d like to make. I call them shows. They’re no more than thoughts, really.  Most of them would be, I think, sublimely ridiculous and charming. Yet I am but three people and all my whims cannot be satisfied by this material world whose laws of physics I seem […]

You know, there are about 347 shows I’d like to make. I call them shows. They’re no more than thoughts, really.  Most of them would be, I think, sublimely ridiculous and charming.

Yet I am but three people and all my whims cannot be satisfied by this material world whose laws of physics I seem to require for this Theater Work.

There is, for example, the show where you are driven from Minneapolis down to Northfield in a VW bug and we stop the car every couple miles and you see a big-screen movie (yes, every time!) of the way this place used to look 20 years ago. And then we take a little excursion through the movie into what used to be woods and is now a tree and then we camp over night in the tree, and then, THEN, when we arrive in Northfield everyone comes out and sings a song about cows and dead beavers as we drive through the town in our convertible like stars in a Bollywood extravaganza, stinking to high heaven, and people throw corndogs and college catalogs at us in wild celebration and we end up outside of town in my parents yard at night watching the stars that have been blown out of the sky by the lights from the nearby development — the aspiring suburbia of a recently enucleated bedroom community.

Or the one where I re-create Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot beat for beat, but with completely different language, in a completely different setting, with completely different characters, and fundamentally re-imagined for early 21st century black-comic misery rather than mid-20th century black-comic misery.

Or the one set inside a former middle school and you travel through its corridors in couples and trios, following faint music and the smell of bubblegum and gym socks, experiencing the full splendor and agony that is 7th and 8th grade. (But vicariously! C’mon, it’d be fun!)

Or the one where you spend the entire performance checking your watches and your email while a train derails in front of you.

Or Alice In Wonderland as a pornographic opera with guns and CDOs.

Or the one based on what I thought was going on onstage when I first heard Tom Waits’ music from The Black Rider. Oooooo…

Or the one that replicates a Mark Rothko painting in performance. (!)

Or the one that goes on in my head when I hear David Byrne’s pieces from The Knee Plays to Robert Wilson’s CIVIL warS. (That’s really more of a dance piece, I guess.)

Or my version of W.G. Sebald’s novel Austerlitz.

Or the one where we all watch real paint actually peel. And then compare that experience to watching The Glass Menagerie.

Or just do The Glass Menagerie. Straight.

(Anyone want to commission these? There’s more where those came from.)

You know why I don’t do these pieces? Not because they’re crappy ideas. (Every idea is crappy to begin with.) But because to do a show, as many of you know, requires a huge investment of thought, time, energy, money, body parts, medication, and in the end will (much like children) literally remove years of life from your already too wretchedly brief and helpless span. So when it is time to do a show (by the internal clock only — no overseer’s time table for this clockwatcher!) I make a choice. This choice is not based on what is easiest to do, or what would be most popular, or what I can afford, or even which idea is the most fully developed (although these criteria are deeply in the mix).

The choice of which gloriously doomed adventure in which to wallow is made by an estimated criterion of necessity: which will be the most necessary for this particular moment. Life is passing us by — for me no less than for you — and I cannot afford to spend currency and capital on something that is, in the lingo of the biz, “pointless.” I won’t make a show that is dead to the life it which it is immersed.

So it comes down the fair question. With that ticket what ya gonna ride, sweetie?

Furthermore, not only is this hypothetical new work in a losing competition with movies, cable, music, YouTube and Facebook. (It is theater, folks. Or at least theater-ish.) It’s also competing with other theater. And the three of us are over here in Starvation Corner of the theater world, labeled* as “experimental,” “avant-garde,” “alternative,” or “different.” (And that’s Minnesota “different,” as in “Oh yah, well…that was real…different.”) So the stakes are high, the losses heavy, and statistics favor the rich. So clearly, ridiculous and charming are not enough.

Now, if you’re still with me ladies and gentlemen, I am approaching the point. And the section of this reeking bloviation in which I come to the piece at hand. Not long now…

I am always of two — er, six — minds when it comes to The Walker Art Center’s Out There series. Primarily it is a chance for our little Sodom on the Mississippi to witness and (briefly and intermittently) to participate in a small portion of the ongoing life of contemporary performance, and through this, contemporary life.

It is also a chance for some work (not ours, but still, I’m in a generous mood) to gain the momentary central significance away from marginalizing labels. (I prefer to take the term “Out There” literally, as in “at a geographical distance,” rather than as the more casual “weirdo freakout buzz fest.” For example.)

It is also a reminder of the taut frustration of inadequate work. Too often disappointed, I return to the series like a jilted stalker. Or like a child to the vaccination table, terrified of the pain to come.

Whatever its quality, Out There is a chance to take part as a practitioner and as an audience member in an ongoing conversation about the world. I rely on my assumption that art is not only decorative but can, at its best, be a materialization of thoughts as experience. Making work and seeing work are two of my modes of entry to our shared world. I also watch YouTube, read the news, and talk to my family.

[SPOILER ALERT]

So it is with resignation and regret that I confess to finding Call Cutta in A Box: An International Phone Play charming, but not particularly interesting. I was hoping for a more immersive experience, at least, having read the blurbs. In fact, I happened to be in New York last January (like Doug) and I was debating between Call Cutta and Surrender (the one where you pretend to be a soldier in Iraq) and saw the second (unlike Doug). So having researched my choices, I knew a bunch about Box — as much as you can, I suppose, without having seen it and given what little there is to know. But I suspended this paltry knowledge, like a good audience member (I am Minnesotan) and jumped in. (As I also did with Surrender, which is another story entirely.)

So, first, while I share some of my colleague‘s interest in finding out more about the person I skyped with, unlike her I did not feel the need to disrupt the performance itself: I was curious what would come of it on its own terms. But like Ms Kayim I ended up wanting more from the experience.

My experience in Box was not unusual (based on my conversations with others) and I was charmed by the event. I had a little trouble figuring out what was being said in the beginning due to a somewhat shaky connection and a heavy accent, but I picked up on the conversation soon enough. I am not a person who will strike up a conversation at a bus stop, but I was chatting away with this guy — whose name I don’t remember hearing — drinking my tea, watching his face talking to me in India. The most interesting moment for me was when my wife (who was in the office next door) was visible to me through the corner window as well as on my computer screen via skype in India. Yes, we were far away so close, but this didn’t have much to do with the people in the call center.

The truth seems to me to be that the interconnectedness of the world’s communication tools, available to those with access, makes this piece a little redundant. I am not prompted to think about the distance (cultural, geographical or economic) between me and this guy (even with his heavy prompting hints: “Just go down that road and in 15000 miles you’ll be in India!” Sure, and I could stop first the airport, drop $1000 bucks and fly there instead). After all, I know people from foreign lands. I talk to them. I’ve been in foreign lands myself. I skype. I know how to work a cell phone and remote computer access. I’ve had my share of mindless, isolating and demeaning jobs for little to no pay. I’ve even pretended I was somebody else to sell something. That these technologies obliterate distance at the same time that they deny intimacy (and remove the need for memory) is not a revelation to anyone who uses Facebook or even Google. So why were we having a conversation? Was I inspired to think more about globalization in general and call centers in particular? No, I was trying to have a conversation with a guy in another part of the world. I was also trying to engage with whatever I could. I tried hard: I danced, I sang, I described what I saw, I told the truth — mostly. I never got to draw a picture, though. Maybe… There are a million maybes that might have changed my experience, but in the end I had a nice chat with a guy from India Sunday night, what’s for dinner?

Founded in the 1990s Rimini Protokoll has been doing stuff like this since 2000, according to their website, and has been “among the leaders and creators of the theater movement known as ‘Reality Trend.’” The Goethe Institute said (according to the RP website): “There is nothing in the German theater at the moment that takes audiences as close to reality as the works of Rimini Protokoll.” Admittedly this is sparse information on which to base a critique, but in combination with the experience of Box, I am curious: what idea of reality is this?

Reality is fine. I’m just not sure that’s where I want to be taken for my $20 (which I didn’t pay, blogger’s privilege, but the sentiment stands). There is an ongoing trend I find disturbing, most apparent to me in arts funding, toward a system of accountability that relies on economic models. How many audience members do you serve? Are you educating, enlightening, fostering leadership, improving livability? Does art bring money into the community? Reality, as seen from outside performance (and we’ll leave the performance of everyday life for another investigation), is tangible and measurable and thus provides a single authoritative environment in which the variable ephemeralities of artistic experience can be codified into demonstrable units — be made fungible. Look: this is the real world.

Because reality is just as ephemeral and delicate as illusion in performance. Unless you take great care, you will destroy it with your greedy grasp. It is multiple and dispersed, and slips away if you approach it directly. Box came close, here. The scripted structure opened a door to a reality. But this reality was too grounded in me and my too familiar environment to come to life. So the piece died there on the desk. Didn’t even have a spectacular 40 floor plummet. There wasn’t enough, I think, in the piece to pull the realities together — or to demonstrate the gaping gulf between them.

Don’t forget: Desconsoft, the call center, is a place where “Success of Desconsoft is a Promise,” and “CUSTOMER IS GOD.” There are other realities here, too.

A little research reveals that an earlier version of this Box piece took audience members on a walk through the city of Berlin, guided by the voice on the cell phone. This fact reminded me of the pleasure available in some of Janet Cardiff‘s work, which is not pleasure of discovering “reality,” but instead about navigating the overlapping layers of reality and fiction that shift our perceptions of both. There’s life there because, for one thing, there is an excess there. Even though it is one audience member with headphones on a solitary walk. There is movement. Box never left the box. It was not alive to the life in which it was immersed. For all its intimacy, it stayed behind the proscenium arch. Nope, I want more.

“But it is Experimental,” I hear someone say, “and sometimes Experiments Fail and we all learn Something in the Process.”

You know, I understand the logic behind human fallibility (even though it grates on my nerves like cheese on a… cheese grater) and I accept it, reluctantly. After all, one must be humble in the face of one’s own catastrophic implosions when your best efforts go sspllplshshshxxxzztztt and smell like the miserable sulfur-methane expulsion of an ailing bovine.

But experimentation is no excuse for dead work, no matter how skillfully accomplished. True experiments are fine if they’re done in the lab. You can really go somewhere with them. But don’t bring them out to test on me. That’s just rude. I want the real deal.

But I don’t think this was an experiment. Rimini Protokoll is highly experienced. This piece has been many places many times. It is a functioning machine. No, the real failure is the mistaking of — or the unthinking acceptance of — death as life. And that is all of our responsibility, the artists’, the producers’, and the audiences’.

Next time, I want more.

Charles Campbell, Skewed Visions

*By the way, if you’re curious what term might be less hackle-raising than Avant-Garde and its kin, I keep thinking it’d be cool to follow the lead of Mr. Tadeusz Kantor…

“A theater person must be an artist, meaning a person who is entirely devoted to artistic ideas, to their development, challenges, risks, and discoveries, and to a desire to explore the ‘unknown’ and the ‘impossible.’

Up to now, we have referred to such people only as ‘avant-garde artists.’ “

…and just be called Artists.

Disapointed & Down: a Skewed Response to ‘Call Cutta in a Box’

Sunday 10:21pm Okay, so I went to the 3pm performance of ‘Call Cutta in a Box’ today and got a call from Santanu, a telemarketer in West Bengal. I found the experience to be profoundly disappointing.  I had been excited about this experience ever since I made the arrangements to go to the ‘event’, but […]

Sunday 10:21pm

Okay, so I went to the 3pm performance of ‘Call Cutta in a Box’ today and got a call from Santanu, a telemarketer in West Bengal. I found the experience to be profoundly disappointing.  I had been excited about this experience ever since I made the arrangements to go to the ‘event’, but I left feeling empty… Something is  nagging at me about my interaction with Santanu that I have not quite nailed  but  I will get to the bottom of it yet.

So what happened?

Well I arrived in an office on the 40th floor of the IDS tower (nice view) & got a call & had a mildly pleasant chat with a stranger in Kolkata – something I’m sure I have done many times before without knowing it. Santanu kept a lively banter going on his end to keep me ….entertained? Engaged? What?

He asked me questions about myself, sang a song, made me tea, drew a picture of what he thought I looked like, turned on a little fan stuck to the computer, showed me around his office …etc. etc. Did these actions make me feel closer to another human being? No, not particularly. It was the kind of intimacy that you might have with say a stranger on an airplane : brief, superficial, fun (depending on your mood) but ultimately empty.  Don’t get me wrong I was responsive. I sang too, asked questions, told him about myself (felt no need to make things up), drew a bad picture of what I thought he looked like & generally cooperated… but nothing. Just this feeling of so?

Did I miss something?? Someone help me out here! All I could think about was that I paid for this chap to talk to me from across the sea & what does it amount to?

Since I was in the unique position of talking to a call center chap without the accompanying marketing script bullshit getting in the way I thought  I’d asked  him questions about things I really wanted to know about such as:

- what’s it like working in a call center?
- do they give you acting lessons & why?
- what’s your favorite international accent to learn?
- do you think its bizzare pretending to be someone & somewhere you’re not in order to sell people stuff?
- did the Rimini people write you a script ?
-  did they ask you what you wanted to say to your calls? etc…etc..

Basically.. I was really curious about the whole situation and wanted to get behind the facade of it all. But Santanu just kept making me tea & giving me these little gifts … or were these the surprises that everyone keeps mentioning? To me they weren’t surprises just little devices to keep things moving along, fill in the time. And I guess that was the problem. He couldn’t or wouldn’t break out of his banter or the structure of the ‘performance’ established for him by the makers: Rimini Protocol. Ultimately  to me it was a facade & nothing more. Sad. Is this what the Rimini folks want us to chew over?

Gulgun Kayim
Skewed Visions